Archive - 2014

ALS’ Happy Problem
Return of the Thought Police
The NFL: Followship Not Leadership
What Makes the Ice Bucket Challenge Go
Hashtag Activism #Fail
A Civility Pledge
Online Harassment
Facebook’s Default Setting

ALS’ Happy Problem

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 1.51.20 PMWhat would you do with an extra $100 million? That’s the happy problem facing the ALS Association after this summer’s mega-viral ice bucket challenge. According to the ALS, the Challenge raised over $100 million from over 3 million people. Compared to $2.3 million last summer.

One of the first thing the organization did was let it’s command and control default setting get the best of it by trying to trademark the Challenge. As I’ve written before, the Challenge was powered friend to friend until the media picked it up. It is unlikely to be replicated at this scale again, nor should it be “owned” by an organization. ALS was the lucky recipient of a lucky and very generous event.

Back to the original question. The organization recently announced a three-fold increase in funding research from $7 million to $21 million. Eighty-five million to go.

Rather than doing more of the same, ALS has an opportunity to experiment with a different way of working. Unlike almost every other organization churning as fast they can for the next donation, the organization can take a deep breath and a step back and think about how to engage all of those new donors. Most of their 3 million new people are one-time donors, having participated in the Challenge because it was fun and social. But a small percentage of them can become regular supporters.

Here are a three ways ALS could begin to infuse their efforts with Matterness, the willingness of the organization to work different and demonstrate that everyone in their network can be important and heard, that will help it sustain it’s momentum over time.

1. Get Conversational. ALS has a nice presence on Facebook with nearly 340,000 Likes, presumably most of them new friends. The organization, though, continues to use the site as a billboard. The first thing to do with all of these new friends is to prove to them that they are part of the crafting of the organization’s new agenda, made possible by their donations. This is going to be very difficult for an organization that largely funds scientific research. They can put the parameters out there that a certain amount of their budget needs to be dedicated to research selected through, say, peer review panels. But there is still a significant amount of money to play with. How about dedicated 10% of whatever the organization has as discretionary funds now to whatever the community chooses to do with it. Start the conversation and see where it goes from there.

2. Find Some Little Bites. Not the snack food, the opportunity for all of ALS’ new friends to do something to help. Since the organization has the luxury, right now, of not asking for money, quite a difference again for the traditional nonprofit experience, it can instead find some interesting ways for people to help. Maybe there is some research on facilities treating people with ALS these new folks could help catalog. Or perhaps there are some new medical data sets being created through Obama care that the network could help crunch. Or collect information about ways that governments overseas are helping ALS patients. Anything that required too much manpower before is now on the table for the new ALS network to tackle. But, please, please, please, ALS, don’t do this work by hiring professionals to do it alone, inside the organization. You have a huge network of people who want to help, find some ways to put them to work.

3. Tell Stories. Make the funding of ALS personal. Invite people with ALS and their families to tell their stories of ways that the increased funding could help them. Just as the donors need to be properly thanked, the people battling the disease need to be recognized and given a voice.



Return of the Thought Police

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 10.25.46 AMIn 1984, George Orwell introduced the Thought Police, the omnipresent, omniscient surveillance force that arrested and re-programmed people having heretical thoughts. We are living in a society that is coming dangerously close to Orwell’s dystopian vision. We live in a surveillance state where nearly every utterance  and act is being captured digitally. What is different is that the Thought Police aren’t a bureau or department of the state, but it is all of us participating in public censorship of free speech – even stupid speech.

There is a pattern to our Thought Police actions:

Phase One: Person X (generally a public person) says something racist, homophobic, racist or just plain hateful. It is captured and posted online.  This isn’t brand new, it sunk George Allen’s campaign 2006 campaign for Senator. More recently, Paula Deen was toppled from her perch atop the Food Network for saying under oath that she had used the “N” word. In these examples, Thought Police kicks in as widespread push back and revulsion happens online.  The pot is stirred further by mainstream media playing the hateful incident over and over again with panels of experts discussing how hateful it is.

Phase Two: This is the punishment phrase, this is the problematic part. Someone saying something repulsive needs to be punished, right? They are suspended from work, or taken off the air for a week, or lose their contract with their team.

These are not incidents like Michael Vick and dog fighting or Ray Rice hitting his fiancee that are hateful crimes. These are thoughts. Stupid, vile, hateful thoughts turned into speech. The Thought Police taken to its extreme is Danny Ferry being suspended from his job for saying something stupid he heard about African players. Ferry said, “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Ferry is now on indefinite reportedly undergoing “sensitivity” training.

An even more egregious example of the Thought Police in action was the forced resignation of the Reverend Bruce M. Shipman, the Episcopalian chaplain at Yale last week. Rev. Shipman had the temerity to write this letter to the New York Times:

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.

The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.

As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

If an institution of higher learning dedicated to the concept of free speech and intellectual inquiry cannot withstand an opinion about Israel that many Jews also hold, what hope is there for free and open discourse anywhere?

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.

The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.

As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

– See more at:

The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank. – See more at:

These “punishments” are just ineffective knee-jerk reactions to quiet any online uproar. The script entails a public apology, some kind of lame retribution and then people are back and on their way, maybe a little lighter in the wallet, but otherwise unchanged. The main result of the Thought Police descending on someone is ensuring that people try very hard not to say what’s on their mind. We need to be in conversation with one another and share assumptions that may be so deeply embedded in our beings we haven’t even thought to take them out and look at them in the sunlight. And the only way to do this is to talk more, not less, with one another. We need to challenge one another in real-time at work, at the health club, at the doctor’s office, at the PTA meeting about our assumptions and outlooks – openly and unabashedly. Otherwise, the hate just lies hidden beneath the surface trying to evade the Thought Police.


The NFL: Followship Not Leadership

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 12.34.00 PMYesterday, Ray Rice was expelled from the NFL for hitting his wife. Of course, we have known this for seven months. We didn’t learn anything new yesterday, but we saw it for the first time. And that changed everything. Unfortunately. What yesterday’s reaction from the Ravens and the NFL did most of all was highlight their lack of leadership throughout the entire incident. Four days after the incident, there was a video of Rice dragging Janey Palmer off the elevator they had both walked on and dropping her on the floor like a sack of potatoes. What else did the NFL and Ravens need to drop the boom on a player who like all players has a clause in his contract calling for ethical behavior? Apparently they needed the world to see a video of the incident.

One of the silliest things I heard yesterday were people complaining that the NFL hadn’t bothered, or weren’t offered, or didn’t ask for, this video. What did they need it for? Rice hit Palmer and then dragged her off the elevator unconscious. Why does anyone need to see it to know that what he did was awful, inexcusable, and given his reaction after the incident, probably not the first time he has hit a woman. The NFL didn’t need to see it to know it was horrible, what they needed was leadership dedicated to a clear set of principles about player behavior that they will adhere to whether there is a video or not.

Organizations are becoming more reactive to online media than ever before. This is followship not leadership, organizations blowing this way and that based on what their fans, customers, donors, volunteers are seeing and feeling at any moment in time. Leaders are the ones that articulate how they expect employees to behave, what is acceptable and unacceptable, and what the consequences are for bad behavior.


What Makes the Ice Bucket Challenge Go

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 2.12.12 PMIn the midst of a dreary summer of war and disease, the Ice Bucket Challenge has popped out as an opportunity to have fun and support a cause collectively. The essence of the challenge is that people post videos of themselves pouring buckets of ice water over their head and challenge three other people to do the same – or give money to ALS or another cause.

The effort started as a friend-to-friend campaign a few weeks ago and has hit the celebrity circuit this week with Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart (a lame effort at her hairdresser’s) and LeBron James. (here is a compendium of some celebrities getting cold and wet.)

There are lots of reasons to love this effort:

  • It is just plain fun to watch someone have a cold bucket of water poured over their head (in summer, not winter!)
  • It was started by individual free agents rather than an organization. These are always my favorite kinds of events because they reflect what people want to do not what organizations want them to do.
  • It’s a wonderful cause to support.

But there is something very specific to this effort that makes the Ice Bucket Challenge different. One of the most powerful aspects of social media is the ability to tag specific people publicly and make them both known and accountable. Naming three people and giving them just 24 hours to take the Challenge or give a donation is the real go-go juice for this effort. And it is what makes this effort both a viral campaign and what I call an action cascade.

An action cascade is the ultimate goal for any cause. It is more than a viral video that people watch and pass on to friends, it is an effort that engages a lot of people to do something very specific in support of an organization or company.

There is never any way to know when or why an effort will go viral. Most simply don’t go anywhere at all. But for those that do, it is imperative for the potential recipient of an effort that it includes very specific, bite-size and time limited tasks for people to do to show their support.

Bravo to the free agents that created the Ice Bucket Challenge!


Hashtag Activism #Fail

There has been a lot of talk this year about #hashtag activism. Campaigns have included #yesallwoman in response to the dreadful shooting by a misogynist shooter, Eliot Rodgers, in Isla Vista, CA. There was #cancelcolbert in response to a racist joke by comedian Stephen Colbert.

Perhaps the most visible campaign is #bringbackourgirls in response to the kidnapping by Nigerian terrorists of hundreds of women and girls.

More than 3 million people tweeted the hashtag since the kidnapping occurred last month. The tweeters included the First Lady:

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 3.00.43 PM

There was good news today that 63 of the kidnapped women and girls managed to escape and return home safely. They weren’t released nor were they rescued, they escaped by their own wiles and courage.

The question is, therefore, what is the point of hashtag activism?

It clearly raises awareness of an issue. However, all social media are capable of spreading an idea or sharing news because, by definition, social media enable messages to be scaled instantly and inexpensively. Hashtag activism enables people to join the conversation by the hashtag. Well, maybe, but, again, a conversation on Facebook or a blog would do the same thing. In addition, there is a risk of someone, or a group of someone’s, hijacking a hashtag. It feels new and shiny. This is what I concluded when I saw this infographic outlining popular hashtag activism campaigns this year – not one of which has made a difference in regards to policy or behavior change, the fundamental goal of advocacy efforts.

My real concern is that hashtag activism is another example of what I call front-end democracy. We are signing petitions, retweeting activism messages, watching Upworthy videos. But to what end? When and how do we get to policy change?

That’s our charge for the second decade of social media activism; to move from front end to back end democracy.


A Civility Pledge

I’ve been thinking and talking to folks like Henry Timms of the 92nd Street Y and Andrea Weckerle about the need for a new civility online. The Libertarian ideals around which the Web was built are no longer sufficient for the level of civility we need to ensure the civility of our online commons. Matterness requires greater civility because we cannot be heard in a cacophony of personal attacks. As Andrea told me, “We need to show our personality online, but we cannot risk being attacked.”

We need a conversation about what it means to be respectful to other people in spaces where others can easily slide into harassment and demagoguery. There is no legal recourse for online harassment unless it extends to death threats. Therefore, we are going to need to depends on visibility and social norms to raise the bar to move past the current default setting of “boys will be boys.” We have to demand accountability without sliding into vengeance.

We need an online civility pledge.

Here is a draft intended to begin a conversation for a short, simple set of ways we need to behave together online:

  1. Words matter. Since 90% of human communications are non-verbal, the intent of words absent the body and voice of the writer can be easily misunderstood. Words need to be chosen carefully to convey the true meeting of the writer. Because it can be so difficult to understand the intent of a writer online, emoticons and symbols should be used often to convey the feelings of the writer.
  2. Stop Bystanding Start Acting. According to the 18th century philosopher, Edmund Burke, “Evil wins when good men do nothing.” Too many of us are watching incivility and not doing enough about it. Perhaps it has to do with the origins of the web as a rough-and-tumble space, but it’s no longer an excuse to do nothing. We need to defend one another and the civil space we are trying to create with vigor. We need to come to the defense of victims quickly. Bullies need to be punched in the nose quickly wherever they prey on people.
  3. The Stranger Test. Anyone considering sending out a smart-ass message should write it and then stop. Now imagine saying the same thing to a stranger on the street, someone who didn’t know your sense of humor. If the stranger isn’t offended, you’re good to go.

Please let me know what is missing and how we can get folks to sign onto this.


Online Harassment

I had two very interesting conversations yesterday with experts in the field of online harassment, Allyson Kapin of Rad Campaign and Andrea Weckerle of CiviliNation. Allyson posted this inforgraphic about the rate of harassment between men and women online:

There is a lot more to the infographic of the results from a survey of over 1,000 net users about where and when and how they are harassed, but this is the part that really caught my eye:

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.52.06 AM

(You should go here to see the entire infographic)

Of the adults who reported being harassed, 57% were women and 43% were men. And also note, that the question wasn’t, “Have you been sexually harassed?” It was, “Have you been harassed?”

This continues a long trend of women being subject to ridicule, stalking, hate and misogyny online.

I talked to Andrea about it. She founded an organization dedicated to trying to create a more civil web. Andrea wants people to step out into public online and make themselves real and even vulnerable, but to be smart about it. She pointed out, and Allyson confirmed on Facebook, that there are no laws against online harassment. Even if it gets to the point of making it impossible for someone to exist online. Unless death threats are involved, general harassment, name calling and intimidation are fair game.

Given how integral the web has become to most people’s every day lives, this seems like an extraordinary impediment to trying to keep the web civil. Platforms can block or cancel the accounts of offenders, but we all know that if someone wants to harass someone badly enough they will find other online pathways to doing so.

Rather than the feds trying to take over the web and provide a fast lane for the telecoms, perhaps focusing on new laws and a new civility online would be a worthwhile national focal point.


Facebook’s Default Setting

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 3.23.55 PMFacebook’s big announcement this week that they are changing the default settings for new users (from public to friends) and existing users (a reminder to check one’s privacy settings) was yet another red herring in the ongoing public posturing by Facebook of appearing to care about users’ privacy.  Facebook is what it has always been: a company much more interested in their bottom line than our privacy.

Every organization has cultural norms built into its DNA. I call these default settings, and they are as stubborn and inflexible as the Facebook newsfeed setting that keeps going back to showing me the most popular posts rather than the most recent ones that I want to see. Default settings are the invisible scaffolding supporting key decisions. Facebook’s primary default setting is to do everything they can to profit from the information that users are creating and sharing. Every decision they make about privacy has to be filtered through that lens.

Facebook has never believed in the importance of our privacy, but they are terrified of people sharing their content less – or worse, somewhere else. Their real default settings is stuck on, “self-interested profit-seeking,” according to PJ Rey.

The company has always pushed the outside boundaries of privacy in search of a sustainable (meaning Wall Street worthy) business model. We, the users have always been commodities.

Here is the choice we have to make: we will continue to be manipulated in order to supersize Facebook’s profits or we can choose to gather somewhere else.


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